1. Turnpike Troubadours at Highline Ballroom, NYC
Turnpike are favorites and their live show is unparalleled. They have the songs, and the impeccable musicianship, as well as an intense energy and a pure enjoyment (and fun) that emanates from them as they play. You like their records, you'll love them live. It's the type of show that you don't want to end....and is always over before you want it to be. If you haven't seen them live, make that one of your resolutions.
2. Braun Brothers Reunion Challis, Idaho
Sure it's not super easy to get to, but it's the best festival that you don't know about. The BBR is a three-day event held in beautiful Idaho, outside with the mountains as backdrop. Reckless Kelly and Micky & The Motorcars (both always a-mazing) anchor Thursday and Saturday with a rotating cast of superb artists which this year included Jason Eady, Courtney Patton, Wade Bowen, Eilen Jewell, Corb Lund, Turnpike and Band of Heathens among others. Bring on August 2016!
3. Ray Wylie Hubbard at Hill Country, Brooklyn
The singer-songwriter is a modern day poet, a storyteller, a keen picker and an out and out funny guy. Hubbard is quite endearing and easily wins over an audience with his charm and wit. Oh, his music is pretty good too!
4. Sam Riggs at Midnight Rodeo, Austin
Multi-instrumentalist Riggs' live show is energetic, electric and intense. You walk away tired....and that's a good thing.
5. (tie) The Black Lillies
Having seen these guys more than once again this year, I can say in all honesty that they never disappoint. Energy, enthusiasm, terrific tunes and musicianship, and the vocals of Cruz Contreras and Trisha Gene Brady. Perfect.
5. (tie) Sean McConnell
This year I have seen McConnell play for 20 people and 500 hundred people and in either setting he gave 100%. He held the room with his powerful songs and amazing, faultless vocals.
6. The Trishas at Madison Square Park Conservatory
The four ladies (Liz Foster, Jamie Lin Wilson, Savannah Welch and Kelley Mickwee + Brandy Zdan) played on a beautiful October afternoon in NYC to one of the largest crowds I have seen at the series. Gorgeous vocals, heavenly harmonies and skilled players. And bonus, they sang with Band of Heathens at their show later that night. Hope they make it back soon.
7. Cody Jinks at Midtown Live
Simply put, Jinks makes some mighty fine country music. Real, raw and honest songs that live (and on record) elicit a visceral response.
8. Jason Boland & The Stragglers and Cody Canada and The Departed at The Cutting Room
Both bands have been around for a while, and with good reason: they're the definition of real, no frills music; well-crafted songs, undeniably talented musicians and a great live show. To have them both on one bill was pretty special and while Canada leaned a bit more rock to Boland's country, they balanced one another nicely.
9. Green River Ordinance at Highline Ballroom, NYC
This band has been around for over a decade (their new release is January's Fifteen), but it was my first time seeing them and man, I was blown away. They're great musicians (with terrific harmonies) who played a seriously high energy set of hopeful, positive songs that just made you feel good. Bonus, they concluded their set with an acoustic encore in the middle of the crowd. Can't wait to see them again.
10. American Aquarium
This is a band who puts in well over 200 live dates a year, but never seems road weary. AA songs are emotionally charged stories of regret, failure, life and relationships and when heard live are passionately conveyed.
And a few more you shouldn't think twice about seeing live: Everyone at the BBR, Sam Outlaw, The Damn Quails, Bart Crow, Randy Rogers Band, William Clark Green, Dale Watson, Whitney Rose, Girls Guns and Glory, Shinyribs, Elijah Ocean and The Honeycutters. And if you are open minded, check out Eric Hutchinson, he's a pop singer-songwriter and he puts on a hell of a show, especailly when he's acoustic.
And my 2016 "Wish List": Statesboro Revue, Dalton Domino, Mike & Moonpies, Jason Isbell.